World Baseball Classic: Prospects for the Majors—Part 2
Last week, I highlighted players from eight World Baseball Classic teams and assessed their chances for playing Major League Baseball.
In part two, I will continue with the five additional teams not named USA who did not make it to the final game. I’ll save Korea and Japan for last.
“Cinderella Team” and “World Baseball Classic” do not belong in the same sentence. To imply that the team from the Netherlands had to depend on a fairy godmother to get them to this particular spot is an insult.
They had some skill and, yes, they had some luck. But they also had a lot of determination to make the plays and the pitches under pressure.
At least they were up for the challenge. But who among the Dutch can play in the major leagues?
Randall Simon, Sidney Ponson and Eugene Kingsale all had their day in the majors. All are over 30 and will not figure into any team’s serious plans—although, pitching is hard to come by.
Never say "never" to Sir Sidney. But let’s focus on the young’ns.
Pitchers Rick VandenHurk (Marlins) and Alexander Smit (Reds) are both 23 and both pitched fairly well in the WBC.
In 21 starts for Florida in the last two years, VandenHurk’s ERA was 6.96 with a WHIP of 1.80. His minor league stats are better—3.61 and 1.30, respectively—and has averaged more than a strikeout per inning.
He'll likely be given a chance to pitch in Florida this year.
Smit, on the other hand, has only progressed to Advanced-A after six seasons. But he is a lefty, something every club is on the lookout for, and averages more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
In four WBC appearances, Smit did not give up a run.
Catcher Kenley Jansen has a cannon for an arm and can move behind the plate, but he was clearly overmatched with a bat in his hand.
Unless he drastically improves his minor league average of .234, he hasn’t got a chance.
Shortstop Hainley Statia got hurt early in this tournament, but the Angels are high on him, inviting him to the big league camp this spring.
Statia hit just .242 in double A last season, but his career average in the minors is .284, and he has stolen 70 bases in four years.
His defense and his versatility should buy him opportunities as a utility guy.
Of the Netherlands' position players, centerfielder Greg Halman has the best chance of making it in the majors.
The Seattle Mariners started him last season in the California League and moved him up to double A about halfway through the season.
Halman hit .272 overall, with 29 home runs and 31 stolen bases. Combine those numbers with solid defense and he is a real prospect.
The two Netherlands pitchers to watch are both only 19 years old. The Boston Red Sox had Dennis Neuman at rookie and short-season ball last year.
In 17 relief appearances, Neuman went 2-0 with three saves. His ERA was 4.29, but his WHIP was 1.23.
Neuman pitched in some key moments in both games against the Dominicans and showed great poise for a 19-year-old.
The other pitcher to look out for is Juan Carlos Sulbaran, who played high school ball last summer before heading to Beijing to play in the 2008 Olympics for the Netherlands.
He was hit hard in two games in the WBC, but shows promise. The Reds will likely start him in Class A.
All but four of the Mexican pitchers have major league experience. Of those four, the only two under 30 are Francisco Campos and Francisco "I'm not K-Rod" Rodriguez.
Campos was hammered in the WBC and failed to impress in three double A seasons from 2002 to 2004.
It seems his boat has sailed.
Rodriguez, like Campos, is 26 and, in three minor league seasons, has a plus-5 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP is. Last season, he was at double A, where he will likely top out.
The starting lineup for Mexico had a few major league regulars like Adrian Gonzalez, Rod Barajas and Jorge Cantu. Others, like Jerry and Scott Hairston, are contributing role players in the majors.
Mexican DH Jorge Vazquez, who signed with the Yankees last winter, batted .294 in the WBC and belted a grand slam. Last year in the Mexican League, he hit .339 with 18 homers.
The Yankees will start him at double A Trenton.
Third baseman Agustin Murillo has five minor league seasons for the Diamondbacks under his belt. Last year, he was loaned to Monterrey in the Mexican League, where he hit .322 with 10 homers, 57 RBI and 19 steals.
Murillo, 26, will be at triple A this season.
Like Mexico, Team Puerto Rico had more than a few major leaguers.
Some, like Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, are stars. Others, like Mike Aviles and Geovany Soto, are new to the major league scene but contribute significantly to their teams.
Carlos Gutierrez pitched for the University of Miami last summer before signing with the Minnesota Twins. In 39 relief appearances for the Hurricanes, he had 13 saves and averaged a whopping 13 strikeouts per nine innings.
In the Advanced-A Florida State League, he continued to pitch well, with a 2.10 ERA in 16 games.
Gutierrez pitched just one inning in the WBC, allowing one hit and striking out one.
Puerto Rico had only one player under the age of 26, which doesn't seem to bode well for their prospects of success in future Classics.
Injuries, indifference and insecurity prevented many of Venezuela’s best pitchers from appearing in the WBC. Only three star pitchers—Felix Hernandez, Armando Galarraga, and Francisco Rodriguez (yes, K-Rod)—showed up.
Johan Santana, Carlos Zambrano and Anibal Sanchez were all coming back from injuries and chose not to play.
Youngsters Carlos Carrasco (Phillies) and Cesar Jimenez (Mariners) each stayed with their major league teams to compete for spots in the starting rotation.
Indians relief pitcher Rafael Betancourt decided he’d rather prepare for the regular season and declined to participate as well.
Thus, Venezuela was forced to fill out the pitching staff with unknowns like Orber Moreno, Victor Moreno, Yoel Hernandez (who has pitched for Spain in international competition), Ivan Blanco, and Jan Granado (hanging on in independent ball).
The team, however, did have three 26-year-old pitchers worth mentioning.
Carlos Vasquez pitched six times in the WBC and looked good doing so. In 4 2/3 innings, he allowed 3 hits but no walks and struck out six.
In six minor league seasons, the left-handed Vasquez has shown potential. After the White Sox released him in 2007, the Red Sox took a chance on him.
He was effective in the California League last season, with a 3.12 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in eight outings.
But in double A Portland, Vasquez bombed. He was released by the Red Sox after allowing 23 walks in 24 2/3 innings.
Vasquez is still looking for a job.
Enrique Gonzalez signed with Boston this winter. In 27 appearances for the Diamondbacks and Padres—18 of those starts—Gonzalez had an ERA of 5.96.
But in the WBC, he did not given up an earned run in 9 2/3 innings. He will likely be in the rotation at triple A Pawtucket.
Ramon Ramirez—not to be confused with the Red Sox’ Ramon Ramirez, who is from the Dominican Republic—did not fare as well for Team Venezuela. He allowed three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings.
Ramirez is on the bubble in Cincinnati, where he was 1-1 last year, with a 2.67 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 27 innings.
Most of the position players for Team Venezuela are known commodities. Gregor Blanco was an impressive rookie last year in Atlanta and will battle for playing time in the outfield this year.
In the WBC, Blanco proved he belonged, batting .400 with two triples.
Max Ramirez, a 24-year-old catcher for the Texas Rangers is currently blocked at the major league level by Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Ramirez hit .354 with 17 homers and 50 RBI at double A last season.
Look out, he’s coming.
Gerardo Parra, only 21, has already advanced to double A. The Diamondbacks are high on the outfielder, who has averaged .304, with 174 RBI and has stolen 78 bases in just three minor league seasons.
Cuban ballplayers remain a mystery to American fans. Are the statistics from the Cuban National Series meaningful in comparison to Major League stats?
How about those accumulated in international competitions like the WBC, World Cup and the Olympics?
Sometimes you just have to trust your eyes. Watch baseball long enough and maybe you can recognize how competitive a player can be.
My educated opinion is that most of the players on the Cuban WBC team could find major league jobs if they were allowed to pursue them.
One player for the 2006 Cuban entry in the World Baseball Classic—Alexei Ramirez—found his way to the big leagues. He is now the starting shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.
So who are the best young players from Team Cuba 2009? First and foremost, left-handed pitcher Aroldis Chapman, a 20-year-old who can already dominate major league hitters.
He throws more than 100 mph and has a devastating 80 mph change up. He is still learning how to pitch, however, and occasionally gets himself in trouble with walks, but he is awesome to watch.
Cuba's impressive right-handers Ismel Jimenez, 22, and Vladimir Garcia, 20, didn't blow the competition away in the WBC, but both have great stuff and showed poise.
As Cuban position players go, Frederich Cepeda looks extremely valuable as a switch-hitting outfielder with decent power who has amazing numbers in international play.
In 24 at-bats, Cepeda hit .500 with 3 homers in this year's WBC.
At 28, and would be snapped up in an instant by any big league team.
Michel Enriquez, 29, is another solid hitter but would have to find a team that could deal with mediocre defense.
Yoennis Cespedes, a 22-year-old outfielder, and Hector Olivera, a 23-year-old infielder, could be starters today in the majors, hitting .458 and .313 respectively in the WBC.
However, the cream of the crop has to be Yulieski Gourriel. Only 24, the slash-and-dash infielder is one of the best baseball players in the world.
Gourriel hit .333 with 2 homers and 6 RBI, and he is a threat every time up to belt one into the gap.
He is athletic, plays outstanding defense at second and third, and can run. I am glad to have gotten a chance to see him play in person.
In my next article, I will review the last two teams in the tournament, Korea and Japan.
Man, this was some great baseball!
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